Well that was real mature...

Well that was real mature...

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fall Roundup Part 2: Top Cow & Darby Pop Writing Opportunities

While the first installment of my "Fall Roundup" was Xander centered, my second installment requires I remove my "poppa" hat and put on the much more expected writer cap and discuss seizing those rare outside writing opportunities.

You see, the problem with being a self-publishing do-it-yourselfer is the lack of market penetration which naturally equals lack of money making opportunities. When my Adventures In Pulp artist partner Matt Childers and I sell copies of Jigsaw World or our Dick Ruby and the Little Green Men/Hawk and a Handsaw flip book at conventions, we are mainly trying recoup the price of printing. We think of it as promotional. We love the work and have developed a wonderful cadre of loyal fans, but we want to reach more eyeballs. The best way to do that is getting a medium to large size publisher to print you and put you out there. More people will probably see Matt's short story in this week's release of Army of Darkness 1992.1 Oneshot by Dynamite Entertainment than have seen his work all year at www.adventuresinpulp.com. They have a name, maybe not as big as Marvel or DC, but a good solid respectable name.

Bottom line: If you want to work in comics and want to be read, you have to break in with a publisher. It's easier for artists. At almost every major convention the publishers have portfolio reviews and, truthfully, it only takes a glance for an editor to see if the artist has it or not.

Writers have it harder. Much harder.

Most big publishers don't take blind pitches or unsolicited scripts. They MIGHT look at your stuff if you have an artist attached, but even then, it's rare and hard to get read. After originally doing Jigsaw World as a pitch, Matt and I started Adventures in Pulp as a way to experiment and try different styles and genres while putting out some one off stories that could serve as backdoor pilots. I would love to take Det. Dick Ruby (or any of our other characters) to a full time full length monthly series. I have at least 22 more "cases" planned out for him to work.

But I have to make a name for myself before I can get that luxury unless I just give in and write solely for the readers of the website. That means I have to look for every opportunity to put my work in front of editors, sometimes I send them copies of our books or links to the website, or just hand them my card at a con. Truthfully even on cons, it's hard to get their ear. One editor told me he doesn't talk to writers because "anyone with a keyboard is a writer." He started out as an artist, and for years I wanted to tell him that was like saying anyone with a pencil is an artist but he's also one of those artists who also tries to write (with less than stellar results). But he has worked his way up to a position of power. So I bit my inner cheek and soldiered on. Another editor I approached wanting to pitch stories told me not to believe the idea of "the bullshit Hollywood pitch" and that he could only get a real idea of what a writer's abilities are when he reads their script. Had it not been so depressing, it would have been hilarious to watch him visibly pale when I pulled multiple scripts from my attach√© case. He immediately back pedaled. All of a sudden scripts were not enough. He thought I was a want-to-be and not smart enough to come prepared with actual writing samples. The truth is that they don't want to read new stuff. They know writers. Some editors are writers themselves. You really have to break out in the independent market first. You have to establish yourself.  Until then, they don't know you and they don't want to know you.

But...

Once in a blue moon we get an open submission opportunity or a chance to get my writing in front of editors. These are so very, very rare and I always take advantage. 

My first shot was back in 2008 or 2009 (the memory is the second thing to go at my age). Viper Comics put out a talent hunt for writers.  To be considered, I had to submit a complete script for an 8 page short story featuring a character NOT published by them. It was odd, but they wanted to see how well we could work with an established character before being handed one of their characters. I did a nifty little tale about Green Arrow. It was a straight forward action piece where he was trying to foil a bank robbery while having the internal debate as to whether he was getting too old to be a costumed adventurer. I was pretty proud of it. Back then Oliver Queen was a 40-something grandfather (his ward and surrogate son Roy Harper aka Speedy/Arsenal/Red Arrow had become a father). He has recently been rebooted and de-aged to match his tv counterpart so I could never hang on to it as a pitch for some future Green Arrow anthology. It was a fun first attempt. I have thought about re-writing it for Blue Quiver (pictured right), a character Matt and I created for our "Hawk and A Handsaw" universe of heroes, but alas it was lost in a fatal computer crash a while back. I always liked the contrast of action and self reflection and the fact that I was able to squeeze in action, character, humor and the history of the character into such a limited page count, so I may just re-work the concept anyway.

It was years later in 2012, Matt Hawkins, an editor at Top Cow Productions, an imprint at Image Comics, threw open the door with the talent hunt. They had just re-launched their universe that includes Witchblade, The Darkness and Artifacts. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the line of books they publish, it mostly revolves around a shared universe of 13 artifacts that imbue the bearers with super-human abilities (more or less). Dubbed "Rebirth," they listed the rules and restrictions and put out a list of characters from which to pick. Writers had to put forth 8 fully scripted pages along with a detailed outline for the rest of the story that would be a oneshot or a mini-series. I dove in with glee and produced a full 22 page script and an outline for a three issue mini-series titled "Fire and Ice Rebirth." They were looking for artists as well and Matt and I threw our lot in together. Matt penciled 8 pages from my script and off it went. I was really proud of the work, I loved the titular character (Glacier Stone bearer Michael Finnegan) and found him imminently redeemable. I had a great mix of character and action as well as several twists including a jaw dropper of a climax. My theme of opposites (hot and cold, good and bad, heaven and hell, love and hate) appeared perfect for my plotted story which followed Finnegan's first confrontation with his nemesis, Gloriana Silver, the Ember Stone bearer (both pictured above in our title page) after discovering that The Darkness bearer, Jackie Estacado, had remade the universe with an altered timeline. I absolutely loved it.

They didn't go for it.

It pains me that it is sitting in a drawer (and hard drive) forever unread, save by Matt, my wife and Mr. Hawkins assistant (a likeable fellow by the name of Siike Donnlley). I absolutely love that story, but that's the business. I did get something even more rare: constructive criticism.

In 2013, they did it again. They made a few tweaks, but it went squarely in my bailiwick. A full script for a done-in-one tale. Having already pulled a full script the first time, I dove in again. This time I switched up my writing style. While "Fire and Ice Rebirth" was a "cinematic" style with no narration and was driven completely by images and dialogue, my new tale "Saints and Sinners" was a story where I used mostly captioning. The framework of the story took place between panels of the initial days of the "Rebirth" storyline in The Darkness issue #101. In my tale, Jackie is relating directly to the reader two historic tales of previous Glacier Stone bearers. I did a lot of historical research and actually wove two interconnected fictional stories around two real historical figures using actual historical events. The main characters were Gorm the Old (pictured right as depicted by August Carl Vilhem Thomsen) and Ivar the Boneless, two Viking warrior kings. Unfortunately Matt and I had to part ways on this, since artists now had to draw from one of the provided scripts. But again, I was proud. It appeared unique, character driven, and historically accurate. There was action and since I was in essence telling two complete tales in one issue, it moved like a sonuvabitch. Again, I absolutely loved it.

They didn't go for it. Again.

But, again, that's the business. J. Michael Straczynski once said making a sale as a writer is like getting struck by lightening and winning the lottery in the same day. Yea, it pains me that it's also sitting in a drawer (and hard drive) forever unread save a few eyes. But that's the game. That's the life you choose.

Top Cow will be doing it again this year (albeit a little later this year than in previous years), and I have started noodling ideas. Hopefully, I will end up being ineligible since another publisher followed suit this year. Darby Pop Publishing who gets printed via IDW Publishing announced in September that they were opening the door on their property, Indestructible. The requirements were that the done-in-one story be a full scripted issue and had to focus on the fallen character of Stingray. I found out about it almost a month later when Matt gave me a heads up. Unfamiliar with the book, I had to do "research" (i.e. I bought and read the first trade paperback reprinting issues #1-4, pictured left) and I immediately fell in love with the book and the characters.  The book has a lot of humor and some deeply flawed characters. The idea of doing some comedy was a welcome challenge since the short stories at www.adventuresinpulp.com are too compact for a lot of levity (you have to have a cliffhanger every 5-7 panels since it is a weekly web series) and the proposals for Top Cow ran much darker (although "Fire and Ice Rebirth" had an obscenely hilarious howler exit line in the prologue). Win or lose, I defy anyone to top my opening scene which takes place at a doughnut shop. I won't say anymore than that since Darby Pop won't announce the winner until Nov. 17th. I don't expect to win. Not because I don't believe in my approach and script, but because you can never expect to. Write it up and send it out and forget about it. While "Fire and Ice Rebirth" and "Saints and Sinners" were both, in my opinion, stronger overall, but I worked hard to come up with something different in structure, that was both dark but funny and character driven for Darby Pop. I'm proud of it and hope someone working on the Indestructible line does as well. It's titled "Random Stanzas in the Poetry of Lies and Self-Deception." If not ,there is always that next Top Cow entry as well as my continued work at www.adventuresinpulp.com. I know either way I will forever think well of the editorial staff at Viper, Top Cow, and Darby Pop just for giving writers a chance.

As they would say in Galaxy Quest: "Never give up, never surrender."



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